Barcelona Without Warning
November in Barcelona, and I find myself without pants.
This was not supposed to be a problem, as I’d gotten myself into Spain a good 20 hours before anyone would notice my lack of pants, but it turns out buying almost anything in Spain on a Sunday is darn near impossible. I don’t know whether to attribute this to religion, obstinacy, or a general lack of concern with commerce, but I’m already missing the nighttime street-hawkers of Thailand, to whom Sunday evenings are a great time to sell everything from multicolored lamps to Bruce Lee T-shirts to deep-fried insects. (Photographic proof below.)
Barcelona came by surprise. I was expecting to linger in Southeast Asia for the rest of 2012, where I’ve spent the last month with an extremely cool cadre of entrepreneurs and expats in the “digital nomad capital of the world.” More on that in a bit.
But duty called. Or maybe it was “doody” (the dog variety).
I’m trying to think of this particular trip as a James Bond mission, with yours-truly in the lead role, albeit with a far less professional haircut and an as-yet-undetermined cast of ridiculously attractive international models.
The villain, though, has been preordained. And I’m going into their nest. I’ll change names to protect the guilty, but here’s the gist: Every company eventually gets a client-gone-bad, and at the end of last year, we got our first. An American company for whom we’d built some elaborate technical infrastructure had its contract with us unilaterally squashed by its Catalonian parent corporation. (Think “the Emperor” to a rather less potent American Darth Vader.)
After the obligatory “oh no you di’n’t” from our attorney, we wound up negotiating a settlement agreement around six months into this year, avoiding nasty legal fisticuffs that I fully believe we could have clobbered them on, but I’m told would have taken years to complete. So with some regret for a fight-not-fought, we delivered what needed delivering after having received the first half of a settlement payment.
At this point, around 3 months ago, the clock started ticking — and quickly went into overtime — on the second half of our settlement payment. My partner in this project — who had won us the original contract, and whom I was morally obligated to let manage the situation — entered into a byzantine and painfully slow series of negotiations to get us paid… But apparently the Catalonian techies who inherited our application code were more along the lines of VCR repairmen than mobile app developers, and didn’t understand what they’d been given. Through what could be fairly interpreted as either intentional stalling or honest-to-goodness incompetence, they had disassembled our hand-off (client-server technology living in a few interconnected places) and then been unable to put Humpty-Dumpty back together. And they weren’t going to pay us the second half of our money until Humpty was humping once again.
I’m never been renowned for my patience, especially when I’m owed high five figures and could make a strong case for mid-six, but my more strategically-inclined partner and our lawyer wanted to offer a final olive-branch before mounting the long-delayed legal brouhaha.
That olive-branch, as you may have now guessed, is me.
So here I am in Barcelona, flown in on 48 hours notice to hand-hold the VCR repairmen through the compilation of their iPad apps, get them to acknowledge that things work, and wait for the wire transfer to go through.
None of this actually requires that I buy pants, but office culture during European winter is a little different than café culture in the tropics, and I’m assuming my flip-flops might raise eyebrows, regardless of my technical expertise. And yes, I fully intend to bill them for the pants, as well as the disgustingly salty Barcelona breakfast I’m eating as I type this.
[Re-reading this, I've noticed that it doesn't sound very James Bond at all, but please use your imagination on the horrible tripwires I may or may not build into their technical systems should they choose to continue not paying.*]
My ticket here was a one-way, because I’m just not sure how long the Resurrection of Humpty will take. I expect not more than a few days, unless they’ve really screwed the digital pooch. But I’ve been bit one too many times by an inconvenient return-flight ticket, and I just don’t do that any more. Plus, with Drungli.com, there’s always a low-cost escape route available (check it out).
A little more on Thailand, and the good times there. I don’t want sound overly sentimental, but I knew as soon as I headed for the airport that I’d be missing it terribly.
You know how sometimes there are “it places” where a scene is really, truly happening? The Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco in the late 1960s, or Paris in the ’30s, or Miami during its cocaine heyday when people were building shadily-financed skyscrapers but not yet shooting each other? In October/November 2012, Chiang Mai, Thailand was like a mini-version of that.
Following an amazing October conference put on by the Dynamite Circle in Bangkok, 30 or so digital nomads descended on northern Thailand and went into lockdown mode on a month-plus of brainstorming, business-building, and an intense sort of networking I’ve never seen before — something between college dormitory living and high-powered business politickery. It was a weird and amazing and organic thing, and I had the sense that everyone else felt the same way: dizzily stunned by the humming energy of a once-in-a-lifetime scene.
Short of going to war together or being on a sports team in a playoffs season, I can’t imagine building so many friendships so fast — and these ones, for me, have the added weight of built-in mutual interests (entrepreneurialism, travel, reckless nonconformity) that make me confident the relationships will outlast the “scene.” For any of you Chiang-Mai’ers reading this, I’m really sorry I won’t be spending Thanksgiving with you. Somebody drink a mango smoothie for me.
The streets of Barcelona are now abustle outside, the nearby mall is 20 minutes from opening, and long pants presumably await me inside. I’m outta here. I’ve gotta give some tech lessons while stealthily building a self-destruct mechanism today.
* This is purely for literary fun, and not a legal admission of any intended malfeasance. No, really.